The Road to 1931

The New Yorker entered its sixth year in 1931, and despite the deepening Depression managed to stay afloat and even gain new subscribers. Perhaps more than ever folks needed that weekly dose of levity the magazine ably supplied.

Rea Irvin rang out the old and welcomed the new with back-to-back covers for the Dec. 27, 1930 and Jan. 3, 1931 issues. The second cover commemorated the New York Auto Salon, mentioned later in this blog entry.

That isn’t to say the magazine’s contributors donned rose-colored glasses. Rather, they commiserated with their fellow Americans:

CRANKY COUPLETS…Ogden Nash lent his droll verse to the nation’s economic woes. In 1931, while working as an editor at Doubleday, Nash submitted a number of poems to the New Yorker and spent three months working on the magazine’s editorial staff. (

Over the course of 1930 many Americans, including Ogden Nash, woke to the fact that their business and political leaders were ill-suited to lift them out of the economic mess, and were likely responsible for it in the first place. At the top of the list was President Herbert Hoover, who was profiled in the New Yorker in three installments beginning with the Dec. 27 issue. This brief excerpt gives you a glimpse into a very different White House 89 years ago:

The first installment of the profile was accompanied by a Cyrus Baldridge portrait of the president (left), but the final two installments featured a less-than-flattering Abe Birnbaum rendering that first appeared in the New Yorker in the March 2, 1929 issue:

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Vorse Was a Force

Social critic, labor activist and novelist Mary Heaton Vorse (1874–1966) was no fan of Herbert Hoover or wealthy business tycoons, and in the first decades of the 20th century joined with Lincoln Steffens and other muckraking journalists in advocating for social reform. Vorse, however, also had a background in fiction writing and in observational pieces like the one below (excerpts) in which she commented on the rustic old ladies she found everywhere in the city:

FOR THE CAUSE…Mary Heaton Vorse (left) with fellow activists preparing to leave on a relief expedition to aid striking Kentucky miners, 1932. At right, a 1925 drawing of Vorse by Hugo Gellert. (

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The Mystic

Before the Beatles made the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi a famed Transcendental Meditation guru in the 1960s, there was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Russian/Greek/Armenian spiritual teacher of the “Fourth Way,” which promised a path to a higher state of consciousness and full human potential. Gurdjieff also enjoyed living in a French chateau and taking trips to New York to share his wisdom with eager Americans, including famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “The Talk of the Town” had these observations on the visiting mystic:

HE COULD SEE THINGS…George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, in an undated photo.

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Sunny Days

Forget about financial woes or spiritual dilemmas. What are you going to wear next summer? Fashion writer Lois Long (“On and Off the Avenue”) asked the question and looked to the south for some answers:

…numerous ads peppered the Dec. 27 issue urging Manhattan’s snowbirds to dress appropriately for the warmer climes…

…and operators of “PlaneTrains” promised to get them there as quickly as possible…

…and if you were headed to Cuba you could stay at the brand new National Hotel…

…here’s what it looked like three years ago when I was in Havana…I can guarantee you the hotel service was WAY better in 1931…

…whether home or abroad, New Yorkers were celebrating the New Year by “dancing to the melodies of Old Vienna” and smoking like chimneys…

…a popular New Year’s Eve destination was the The Roosevelt Hotel, where Guy Lombardo’s orchestra helped ring in the New Year from 1929 (radio’s first nationwide New Year’s Eve broadcast) to 1959…

I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel in late December, and found Lombardo still presiding over the bar…

…we also find New Year’s revelry in the cartoons, with Mary Petty

Izzy Klein

Otto Soglow...

…and Leonard Dove

…and for those who stayed home, we have this scene of domestic bliss from Don Herold

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On to the Jan. 3, 1931 issue, we have Howard Brubaker (“Of All Things”) waxing sour on the state of the economy…

…so what a better way to cheer up than to look at shiny new cars, especially the ones almost no one could afford? The New Yorker paid another visit to the New York Automobile Salon at the Grand Central Palace…

…according to the article, 1931 was “a streamline year,” and leading the way was the REO motor car company, which despite its innovative ways would drop its car line altogether in 1936 — a casualty of the Depression…

FLOWING FENDERS…The 1931 REO Royale was a trendsetter, introducing streamlining designs. The Great Depression would cause REO to abandon the manufacture of automobiles in 1936. (

…over at the Chrysler Building, which served as that corporation’s headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s, new cars were on display on the building’s first two floors…

CATHEDRAL OF CARS…The first two floors of the Chrysler Building served as an auto showroom during the building’s first decade. (Wikipedia/

…we segue to our advertisements, many from car companies touting their displays at the New York Automobile Salon. Like REO, Marmon was noted for various innovations, including the introduction of the rear-view mirror. It also manufactured a stunning 16-cylinder automobile that was on display at the 1931 Salon. But also like REO, the Depression proved too much for Marmon, and it was defunct by 1933…

SLEEK…The 1931 Marmon Sixteen. (RM Auctions)

…another car company that would fall to the Depression was the luxury brand Pierce Arrow. Without a lower-priced car in its lineup to provide cash flow, the company ceased operation by 1938…

…by contrast, the Chrysler Corporation had several low-priced models to help it survive the lean years and enable it to produce its luxury model, the Imperial…

ANOTHER FIRST…Chrysler was also known for its innovative ways. A custom version of the Chrysler Imperial Eight included a dictaphone. (

…the Hudson Motor Car Company is long gone, but in 1930 it was the third largest carmaker after Ford and Chevrolet, and instead of luxury it touted the affordability of its cars, especially its low-priced Essex line, priced $1,000 less than its predecessor from ten years earlier. The $595 Essex would be comparable to a $9,000 to $10,000 car today (by comparison, the 1931 Marmon or Imperial would set you back somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, roughly equivalent to a $46,000 – $78,000 range today)…

…so let’s say the Depression has wiped you out and you can’t even afford an Essex…well you could try to “smoke your way back to normalcy”…

…or be like this pair, who seem content with their Chesterfields…

…of course the movies were another means of escape from the cruel world, and Paramount’s Publix Theatres promised plenty of sex to ease troubled minds…

PRE-CODE WORLD…During a brief period of the early sound era, many films used both sex and violence to attract audiences to theaters. The Publix Theatres ad above implied that these three films had plenty of sex, or “it” — clockwise, from top left, Fredric March ran around in his skivvies in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930); Mary Brian and Ina Claire portrayed acting sisters Gwen and Julie Cavendish in The Royal Family of Broadway; David Manners and Ruth Chatterton shared an embrace in The Right to Love (1930); and Marlene Dietrich lured a schoolmaster into a life of madness and despair in The Blue Angel (1929-30).

…and we close with our cartoonists…Reginald Marsh heralded the new year with this two-page spread depicting the heavens glorifying dental hygiene…

Leonard Dove inked two cartoons featuring table talk…

E. McNerney continued the New Yorker tradition of cartoons featuring rich old men and their gold diggers…

Gardner Rea pondered the value of kitsch in a regal setting…

A.S. Foster looked in on a crowd of John Does at a speakeasy…

…and Lillian Reed took us shopping with a very specific request…

Next Time: Requiem For the Flapper…


The Perfect Gift for 1927

We close out 1927 by looking at the final December issues, which grew fat with Christmas advertising catering to the tastes of New York’s smart set.

December 10, 1927 cover by Gardner Rea.

Before we jump to the ads, let’s look in on Lois Long, who in the Dec. 10 issue continued her lamentations regarding the quality of New York’s Prohibition-era night life and reminded readers that her job was far from a “soft snap”…


The problem, as diagnosed by Long, was that there were not enough talented entertainers to fill the needs of an overabundance of nightclubs…


LOIS THOUGHT BOBBIE ARNST WAS PRETTY SWELL when she appeared at Helen Morgan’s nightclub. A noted broadway singer and dancer, Arnst is pictured above in a publicity photo from the 1929 film Rhythms in Blue. (
ON THE OTHER HAND…Evelyn Nesbit’s tearoom (and later speakeasy) couldn’t survive on notoriety alone. In the early 20th century Nesbit’s face was everywhere—from advertisements to calendars—but in 1906 her fame took a nasty turn when her jealous husband, Harry Thaw, shot and killed suspected lover and famed architect Stanford White at Madison Square Garden’s rooftop theatre. At left, Nesbit in 1900. At right, Nesbit in her tea room on West 52nd Street, near Broadway, circa 1922. (Library of Congress /

Long also railed against the white appropriation of Harlem entertainment, which she felt was draining the place of its soulfulness. In particular she called out writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, who among white writers was the most prominent in intellectualizing the “Harlem Renaissance”…


What to Buy in ’27

The Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 issues grew fat with holiday advertising, averaging 120+ pages as opposed to the usual 60 or so pages. The advertisements mostly appealed to upscale readers, ranging from this almost Victorian-style ad from the staid Brooks Brothers…


…to this ad from Rex Cole promoting the latest in modern conveniences…


And I’ll toss in this comic from the Dec. 10 issue, in which Peter Arno allows us to listen in on an unlikely conversation between a couple of toffs…



Lois is Also Tired of the Holidays

On to the Dec. 17 issue, in which Lois Long (who had recently married cartoonist Peter Arno, whose work is pictured above) also shared with readers her weariness of Christmas shopping in her column, “On and Off the Avenue.”

December 17, 1927 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

The “Parisite” Long referred to in this excerpt was actually Elizabeth Hawes, who occasionally contributed to Long’s column (with cables sent from Paris) regarding the latest in French fashions. More on Hawes another time…


As for ads in the Dec. 17 issue, we get this one from Dunhill, maker of fine English cigarettes and accessories: a woman’s compact that resembles a lighter…


…and the same issue offers this glimpse into the life a spoiled rich kid, home from college for the holidays. The cartoon is by Alan Dunn, one of the most published New Yorker cartoonists (1,906 cartoons from 1926 to 1974)…


With Christmas advertising over, the magazine’s page length dropped by half from the Dec. 17 to the Dec. 24 issue…

December 24, 1927 cover by Andre De Schaub.

…in which we find this holiday-themed illustration by Al Frueh:


Why We Sing Auld Lang Syne

This advertisement in the Dec. 24 issue invited readers to celebrate the New Year at The Roosevelt Hotel…


The Roosevelt Hotel after its completion in 1924 (Museum of the City of New York)
AULD ACQUAINTANCE…If you want to know why we sing “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve, you can thank Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian Band, which made the song a staple at his New Year’s performances beginning in 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel. Their performance that night was broadcast on the radio before midnight Eastern time on CBS, then after midnight on NBC radio. (

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Now Let’s Get Out of Here

With the holidays out of the way, New Yorkers still faced a good three months of winter. That is, unless you were well-heeled enough to head south to Palm Beach.  Considering the abundance of ads promoting travel to southern climes in the Dec. 24 and 31 issues, apparently many of the magazine’s readers possessed the means to do just that…



And we close this entry, and the year of 1927, with this cover…

December 31, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

…and another tropical-themed advertisement, courtesy of Russeks…


…and this cartoon by Mary Petty depicting those who were left behind, still returning their Christmas gifts…


Next Time: Odious Odes…




Oh Those French

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Oct. 24 cover by Max Ree.

Apparently even Parisians have fashion lapses from time to time. Janet Flanner (Genêt) reported with some alarm a “curious phenomenon” from Paris in the Oct. 24, 1925 issue of The New Yorker.

It seemed that the otherwise fashionable Parisians were slumming it a bit and had adopted a dowdy look previously associated with residents of the British Isles. (The un-dowdy image at the top of the page is French designer Sonia Delaunay and her matching Citroen in 1925).

Apparently such pedestrian tastes had also caused a shift from formerly fashionable travel destinations on the Atlantic coasts to Mediterranean destinations:

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And to top things off, the French were agog over the latest Charlie Chaplin film, The Gold Rush (another French favorite of American clown-dom, Jerry Lewis, would be born the following year):

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But then there was another new distraction in town, the Autumn Salon:

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Pavel Tchelitchew, self-portrait, 1925 (Flickr)

Pavel Tchelitchew was known as a leader of “mystical surrealist” painting. He left his native Russia in 1920 and lived in Berlin before moving to Paris in 1923. There he became acquainted with Gertrude Stein and Edith Sitwell, the latter with whom he had a long-standing friendship.

The French were also on display in a comic piece by Theodore Shane, who also served as the magazine’s movie critic.

Shane wrote a piece titled “Fra~nce” in a style that suggested he was teaching children about France by dividing words into syllables (it was similar to a piece about Russia (“Rus~sia”) in the Aug. 29 issue, signed “Freudy”) Here’s a sample:

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A full-page ad on the Page 1 announced the “The Midnight Open” event at The 19th Hole Club in the Hotel Roosevelt, with an impressive lineup of golf professionals such as Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen and even “prominent amateurs” including Bobby Jones.

The Roosevelt Hotel, which opened in 1924 (Expedia)

I was surprised that the annual membership fee was advertised as only $10, which would roughly translate to $135 today—a bargain compared to what it costs today to join even the lowliest golf club.

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“Talk of the Town” welcomed news from Boston that “ladies are to be allowed to smoke in the open” in that city (drawing by Johan Bull):

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In a feature “Our Collegiate Hilltop,” Elmer Davis wrote about the droves of college students who had taken over much of the available housing along Morningside, “a ghetto for the Nordic native-born.” Davis offered this lament about Columbia’s continued creep into the surrounding neighborhoods (with accompanying art by Helen Hokinson:

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“Profiles” examined the life of “A Kind Man,” William Lyon Phelps. That title was not meant as a complement from writer Waldo Frank, but rather it was his “kindness” toward authors that caused him to praise books that were not worthy of praise and made him the personification of the “most American of disasters: the disaster of Good Intentions, when they are not fortified by intellectual hardness, when they are not drained of all sentimental juices.”

Ethel Barrymore in 1925 as Ophelia in Walter Hampden’s Production of Hamlet. (

In “The Theatre” Elsie Ferguson and Basil Rathbone were appearing in “The Grand Duchess and the Waiter” at the Lyceum (“an agreeable piece of work”), while Ethel Barrymore “wowed” critic Herman J. Mankiewicz with her performance as Ophelia in a revival of Hamlet at Walter Hampden’s theatre.

Or at least I think she wowed him. Mankiewicz knew and worked with the Barrymore family, and I wonder if his over-the-top style here is a wink to the fact that a 45-year-old Ethel was playing the part of a young virgin. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

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I hate to jump ahead, but in the Nov. 14 issue, “Talk of the Town” offered this humorous anecdote from one of Barrymore’s performances:

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In sporting news, John R. Tunis continued his coverage of rivalry matches staged at Yankee Stadium, this time the fiercely competitive Notre Dame vs Army matchup. Despite Notre Dame’s renown under Knute Rockne, Army was a worthy foe in the 1920s and in this particular matchup the Cadets blanked the Irish 27-0. The matchup between these teams was so popular that it was played at Yankee Stadium until 1947.

And finally, Lois Long sharpened her pencil and offered her thoughts on a dull dinner crowd at Pierre’s:

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A drawing by Peter Arno (who would marry Long in 1927) in another section of the magazine seemed to refer to Long’s lament:

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Long also offered some criticisms of a “new negro revue” that decidedly differed from the mainstream:

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A great illustration by Julian deMiskey of the Bellows exhibition at the Met:

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Next Time: Short-tempered about Temperance…

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